Franklin River Rafting in Tasmania

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The picnic area on the banks of the upper Franklin River offers little indication of the wild waters encountered while on a Franklin River rafting adventure. The Franklin River in Tasmania is breathtakingly beautiful and wild. It’s an ancient and powerful ecosystem that is untouched and majestic.

If you were to fly over the Franklin-Gordon Wild Rivers National Park, you would be amazed at the sight of the river.

A whitewater rafting adventure on the Franklin River is not for the faint-hearted. It’s quite a bit more challenging than, say, kayaking in Wineglass Bay but anyone with a good level of fitness and mobility and a sense of adventure can do it.

Here are two rafting adventures on the Franklin River:

  • Franklin River Rafting Company – Photographer Cameron Blake
  • World Expeditions Franklin River Rafting –  Travel writer Louise Southerden

franklin tasmania

Tasmanian rivers are known for their wild beauty.

Franklin River Rafting Company 

By Cameron Blake

I have been on the river twice. The first time I was with some mates. We had no idea what to expect and I’m sure we came out of the experience alive by sheer luck!

The second time, I was sensible enough to go with a professional rafting company. Franklin River Rafting Company took care of everything.

The trip was amazing. So sit back and enjoy these photos of my Franklin River rafting adventure.

franklin river rafting
The river is a great place to reflect and take in life

I was a bundle of nerves and excitement. I still recall with amazement the feeling of isolation on the river.

There are some very exciting parts of the river and some very calm gentle parts of the river, which are perfect for collecting your thoughts.

Franklin River
Inflating the rafts prior to our departure on the Franklin River.

You need to have a reasonable fitness level but I think most people of average fitness could do this trip without too many issues.

Each day you will be required to paddle but working as a team on your raft allows you to manage the days quite easily.

Franklin River
Tasmania’s Franklin River is a wild adventure.

The water level on the river also plays a big part in whether you have to paddle a lot or a little. It’s a real Tasmanian adventure. You have to pull your weight on these trips.

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It doesn’t take long for us to hit the wild rapids

Teamwork is the key and it’s important to have team members who are able to follow instructions in stressful situations.

franklin river rafting
The guides are extremely professional, focused and on their game

If you go with a tour company they will provide pretty much everything you need including food and tents.

franklin river rafting food
The food on our Franklin River rafting tour.

Rafting the Franklin allows you one thing though, the knowledge that you are among a few who can say they have braved the river in Tasmania.

White water rafting guide
White water rafting guide.

World Expeditions Franklin River Rafting

By Louise Southerden

white water rafting
White water rafting the Franklin River in Tasmania is an adventure of a lifetime. Photos: Louise Southerden.

You are not important here, in this wild place.

The seasons determine when you come and the river decides how long you’ll stay.

You’re going to spend at least part of the next nine days wet through, cold and longing for the warmth of your own bed.

You’ll be challenged on every level.

White water rafting Tasmania
White water rafting Tasmania can be challenging on all levels.

You might even feel a twinge of fear as you negotiate your way through whitewater rapids with names like Thunderush, Jawbreaker and The Cauldron.

But, strange as it sounds right now, you won’t want to be anywhere else when you’re rafting down the Franklin River, through Tasmania’s wilderness.

Lying at the heart of one of the wildest and most remote parts of Australia, Tasmania’s most famous river has an ominous reputation.

When it first appeared on maps, in the 1830s, the Franklin snaked through a blank space eerily called Transylvania.

Its earliest visitors spent as much time on land as on the river, being forced to walk out over rugged mountain ranges when their canoes and kayaks were wrecked by wild rapids.

Franklin River Adventure with World Expeditions

Franklin Tasmania
Rafting the Franklin is a true wilderness experience.

The Franklin was finally deflowered in 1958, by a team of kayakers, but it has lost none of its wildness since then.

It still has a well-deserved reputation for erratic weather, hypothermic cold, treacherous rapids and river levels that can rise several metres overnight.

And it’s still as untouched as ever: the only people to go there are small parties of rafters and kayakers, in summer, and even then they’re confined to the river and a few National Park-approved campsites.

In an age when so many natural places are being tamed and made more accessible, rafting the Franklin is one of the world’s last true wilderness experiences.

white water rafting tasmania
White water rafting in Tasmania can involve a bit of hard work.

So it’s with a special blend of excitement and nervous anticipation that you get ready to launch the rafts on day 1 of your river adventure.

Ever since the first inflatable raft made the trip down the Franklin in February 1976, rafts have been the vehicle of choice for most river-travellers.

The plan is this: you and nine others, including two all-knowing river guides, are to spend nine days paddling, pinballing and peacefully drifting more than 100km down the Franklin River.

You’ll start at the river’s junction with the Collingwood and follow its twists and turns to Sir John Falls on the Gordon River, where you’ll be picked up by yacht and transferred back to Strahan, halfway down Tasmania’s rugged west coast.

What to wear on a Franklin River rafting adventure

Rafting Tasmania
Rafting in Tasmania doesn’t get any better than the Franklin.

Travelling through such a wild place brings unique challenges, not least of which is: what to wear?

Fashionistas might protest but if you want to stay safe and warm, you’re going to have to kit yourself out in an unmatching ensemble of a wetsuit, helmet (to be worn at all times), fleece, waterproof paddling jacket (called a “cag”) and lifejacket.

Weather forecasting takes on special significance too. Because the Franklin’s banks are so steep and its catchment so vast, any rainfall upstream can lead to sudden and dramatic rises in river levels, especially in the Great Ravine, the most challenging section of the river, which you’ll meet halfway through your trip, on day 5.

If there’s one rule on the Franklin it’s this: expect the unexpected.

The good news is that no matter what the conditions – high water, low water, or somewhere in between – you’re in for the ride of your life.

Most of the rapids are grade 3 and 4 (the scale goes up to grade 5) with a few designated “portages” – a fancy-pants word (particularly when pronounced “por-taag” as the French say it) for what amounts to carrying the gear and rafts along narrow goat tracks that detour around rapids too dangerous to run.

Franklin River Rafting – The Experience

franklin river rafting
Paddling as a team is the key to surviving the Franklin River

It doesn’t take long to get used to paddling as a team and the river guides’ instructions are clear enough – once you understand that “river right” means the right side of the river as you’re looking downstream.

The single blade paddles are easy to handle and, more importantly, easy to hold onto with their T-bar at one end.

If you are unexpectedly tossed into the river, by the way, remember two things: keep hold of your paddle (it’ll give your rescuers something to grab when they pull you out) and point your feet downstream (to avoid hitting your head on submerged rocks).

If you’re lucky (as we were) you’ll be blessed with fine weather, a rarity in southwest Tasmania.

rafting the Franklin River
Tasmanian rivers are known for their wild beauty and the Franklin is the jewel in the crown.
rafting tasmania
Discover the wild landscape while rafting Tasmania.

Mist and cloud have their own appeal, but nothing beats wilderness under blue skies.

For one thing, there’s more wildlife when it’s sunny. It’s not uncommon to see platypus and sea eagles, nocturnal pademelon (small Tasmanian wallabies) and spotted quolls.

You might even feel tempted to have a swim.

Sure, the water’s only eight degrees (it may be summer, but this is Tasmania), but keep your wetsuit on and you’ll be warm as wet toast.

Rafter’s Basin campsite, just after the Great Ravine, has an enormous deep-green pond twice as big as any Olympic pool and perfect for swimming.

An added bonus is that the river’s tannin-stained water is pure enough to drink, from source to sea.

Where else could you float on your back buoyed by lifejacket, wetsuit and Dunlop Volleys (canvas tennis shoes long considered ideal rafting footwear), surrounded by canyons several days’ walk from anywhere, and quench your thirst simply by opening your mouth?

You’ll probably come prepared for adventure on the Franklin but nothing will prepare you for its beauty: sticks and driftwood stuck in crevices high up rock faces, like artists’ creations hurriedly abandoned; smooth pebbles in smooth-walled pools; perfectly landscaped alcoves of moss-covered rocks and trickling waterfalls.

You’ll drift past massive King Billy pines and stately Huon Pines that could be 2000 years old.

Franklin River forest camp

In the mornings you’ll wake up in your forest campsite to the aroma of freshly brewed coffee (prepared by your faithful guides, over the camp stove).

In the afternoons, when you’ve come ashore, hung out your wet gear and slipped into the one set of dry clothes you brought (space is at a premium when ten people have to fit all their gear for nine days on two rafts), you might explore the surrounding country.

There’s no rush.

Tasmania has daylight saving longer than any other state so it’s light until almost 10 pm in summer.

At the end of the river when you start the long journey back to city life, first by yacht across Macquarie Harbour to Strahan and then by minibus back to Hobart, you’ll realise that you’ve accumulated more than the grime of nine days without washing.

In losing track of time and the days of the week, you’ve gained something else: that rare relief of being nobody of consequence in the true Tasmanian wilderness.

Franklin River Rafting Trips

Franklin River Rafting Company is a family operated company that runs eight-day Franklin River rafting trips from $2970. The price includes professional guiding, meals, videos and photos of the trip, rafting equipment, wetsuits, safety equipment (including helmet & pfd
watershed dry-bags), self-inflating air-mattress, Tasmanian Parks & Wildlife Services fees
transfers and a yacht cruise on board ‘The Stormbreaker.

World Expeditions runs nine-day Franklin River rafting trips between late November and late March, from $2895 (ex Hobart). Trip cost includes rafts and rafting equipment, experienced guides, waterproof storage containers, meals, camping gear, and transport to and from Hobart.

For more Tasmania attractions read:

Franklin River Rafting in Tasmania

Franklin River Rafting in Tasmania